Why Do Some Pop Songs Become American Bar Classics? NPR's Ari Shapiro talks to writer Kenny Herzog about why some songs turn into American bar classics.
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Why Do Some Pop Songs Become American Bar Classics?

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Why Do Some Pop Songs Become American Bar Classics?

Why Do Some Pop Songs Become American Bar Classics?

Why Do Some Pop Songs Become American Bar Classics?

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/474411532/474411533" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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NPR's Ari Shapiro talks to writer Kenny Herzog about why some songs turn into American bar classics.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's the end of the week. Happy Hour's underway. So we're going to take a break from war and politics and strife to answer the hugely important question, why do some pop songs become barroom classics? Decades pass, tastes change, but "Sweet Caroline" never goes away.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SWEET CAROLINE")

NEIL DIAMOND: (Singing) Sweet Caroline.

SHAPIRO: "Livin' On A Prayer," same thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIVIN' ON A PRAYER")

BON JOVI: (Singing) Oh, we're halfway there, oh, livin' on a prayer.

SHAPIRO: Or how 'bout when this comes on at a bar?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "POUR SOME SUGAR ON ME")

DEF LEPPARD: (Singing) Pour some sugar on me, ooh, in the name of love.

SHAPIRO: The list goes on. Writer Kenny Herzog has taken what he calls a quasi-scientific look at this issue for Punch magazine, and he joins us now.

Cheers.

KENNY HERZOG: L'chaim.

SHAPIRO: What is a barroom classic song?

HERZOG: Well, I think it's a song that even after it's outlived its time on the pop chart it continues to endure in this one strange public forum that is the - let's say the college bar or the town dive bar, specifically where ideally there's a jukebox where someone can select what to play as opposed to being at the mercy of a bartender's Spotify.

SHAPIRO: And no matter what your taste in music, no matter what age you are, when these songs come on, for the most part, everyone just tends to feel good.

HERZOG: That's a big part of it - definitely the euphoric quality, especially when you're out and your night is either going well or not so well, one way or the other, what can sort of bind everyone in that experience is the magic of song. But specifically, (laughter), specifically a song with a hook or something catchy and ascendant and memorable.

SHAPIRO: These songs are really different from one another. I mean, like, on one end of the spectrum, you've got something like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FRIENDS IN LOW PLACES")

GARTH BROOKS: (Singing) 'Cause I got friends in low places where the whiskey drowns and the beer chases.

SHAPIRO: And then there's something like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRAZY IN LOVE")

BEYONCE: (Singing) No one else can. Got me lookin' so crazy right now. Your love's got me lookin' so crazy right now.

SHAPIRO: So Kenny Herzog, what unites these?

HERZOG: I think what unites them is that we've been repetitiously inundated with them on the radio and they then become our shared articulation of a certain time and place. But to really then elevate to the place where we want to keep putting our quarters in and playing them over and over again as a sort of rallying cry for the masses, it has to have a very simple hook, it has to have lyric that's very unfussy about its aspirations.

SHAPIRO: Unfussy, I like that.

HERZOG: (Laughter). And it needs to be willing - a song that, even if it didn't design itself that way, somehow can be bent in its simple architecture into something that feels motivational and ebullient and euphoric.

SHAPIRO: Also something that goes well with perhaps a little bit of intoxication.

HERZOG: And being drunk helps.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU SHOOK ME ALL NIGHT LONG")

ACDC: (Singing) And you shook me all night long. Yeah, you shook me all night long.

HERZOG: These are songs that beg to be sang in unison and sort of catch people somewhat off guard 'cause you can't predict what one person is going to select. That's the sort of collective trust fall that is, you know, a bar jukebox. And being willing to be a participant and not a snob and not an elitist, you know, it brings out all of our latent impulses to be part of something communal.

SHAPIRO: (Singing) Come on Eileen (laughter). I don't even know the words (laughter).

HERZOG: It's L - but you know the too, rye, ay (ph).

SHAPIRO: (Singing) Every - yeah. (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COME ON EILEEN")

DEXYS MIDNIGHT RUNNERS: (Singing) Come on, Eileen, too loo rye ay (ph). Come on, Eileen, too loo rye ay (ph).

HERZOG: "Come On Eileen" still chafes at Kevin Rowland in Dexys Midnight Runners. However, it's the only song they wrote where there's this is transcontinental woman's name in the title that anyone can sort of project their impression of who Eileen is on to it in addition to having that incredible climactic build toward the end and the too, rye, ay and the fiddle and the whole thing. It's basically just an orgasm of joy.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COME ON EILEEN")

ACDC: (Singing) Eileen, too, lou, rye, ay (ph). Come on, Eileen, too, lou, rye, ay (ph). Too, la, too, la, too, lou ra (ph). Come on, Eileen. Oh, I swear, what he means. At this moment, you mean everything.

SHAPIRO: As long as we promise not to judge your taste in music for it, what barroom song do you want us to go out on?

HERZOG: For me, the quintessential song - Bon Jovi's "Livin' On A Prayer" to me is the song that makes people want to drop all their defenses, drop all their pretenses. It is just so [expletive] fun and aspirational and feel-good.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIVIN' ON A PRAYER")

BON JOVI: (Singing) She says we've gotta hold on to what we've got, it doesn't make a difference if we make it or not.

SHAPIRO: Kenny Herzog wrote about barroom classics for Punch magazine. Thanks a lot. Have a good weekend.

HERZOG: Thanks Ari, you too.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIVIN' ON A PRAYER")

BON JOVI: (Singing) We'll give it a shot. Oh, we're halfway there. Oh, livin' on a prayer. Take my hand. We'll make it, I swear. Oh, livin' on a prayer.

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